from the Henry Circuit Court The Honorable Kit C. Dean Crane,
Judge Trial Court Cause No. 33C02-1504-CT-23
Attorneys for Appellant Kory T. Bell Federico & Bell
Hagerstown, Indiana Richard Andrew Young Greensburg, Indiana
Attorneys for Appellee - New Castle Community School
Corporation John C. Trimble Neal Bowling Lewis Wagner, LLP
In 2013, Wyatt Severance and Turner Melton were both enrolled
in a vocational education program operated by the New Castle
Career Center, which is administered through the New Castle
Community School Corporation (the "School"). A
physical altercation between the two students resulted in a
serious leg injury to Severance, who filed a civil complaint
against the School, alleging negligence. The School moved for
summary judgment on two grounds: first, that Severance was
contributorily negligent in bringing about his injuries,
thereby barring any recovery, and second, that the School did
not breach its duty to Severance. During the summary judgment
stage, Severance designated an expert affidavit, which the
School moved to strike. The trial court granted the
School's motion to strike and the School's motion for
summary judgment. Finding that the trial court erred in
granting the School's motion to strike and that there are
genuine issues of material fact as to whether the School
breached its duty and whether Severance was contributorily
negligent precluding summary judgment, we reverse and remand.
In the fall of 2013, Severance and Melton were two of sixteen
students in the School's building trades program.
Severance, who attended Hagerstown High School, was seventeen
years old and a first year in the program; Melton, who
attended Blue River Valley High School, was nineteen years
old and a returning second year. The program took place at a
residential home construction site; on school days, the
students drove from their respective schools to the
construction site and worked for three hours each afternoon.
The teacher, Trevor Stout, who had taught in the program for
ten years prior to this incident, would assign tasks, and the
students would disperse throughout the site to work on them.
John Edington was Stout's aide. Stout created a structure
where second-year students would give directions to
Students described Melton as a "hothead" with anger
issues, and they would avoid Melton because of his verbal
abuse and harassment. Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 89,
110-12, 114. The students believed that Melton enjoyed
picking fights with other students. One student had asked
Stout whether he could be kept separate from Melton because
of Melton's verbal abuse, personal interactions, physical
size, and attitude; Stout granted the student's request.
Stout remembered Melton as a bossy and dominant person in the
group. He recognized that Melton would become frustrated if
Stout did not answer his questions to his satisfaction, and
he saw Melton throw tools down and raise his voice on the job
Severance and Melton did not interact before their
altercation. During the program, Severance observed Melton
belittling his work partners and classmates in the presence
of others, ordering other students to go to the tool shed to
get his tools, and taking credit for other students'
work. Severance did not observe Melton make physical contact
with anyone in the program; he did not know whether Melton
had been involved in a physical altercation with another
student in the program or at Blue River High School; and he
was not aware of Melton making threats of physical harm to
Around 12 p.m. on November 26, 2013, Melton stole
Severance's bag of sunflower seeds out of Severance's
hands as Severance was waiting for class to begin. Stout
assigned six students, including Severance and Melton, to
clean the basement. Melton came down the steps to the
basement giving orders to the other students; he told the
other students that they were not working hard enough.
Severance asked Melton, "What is your issue, man?"
and said to him, "Hey, I just want you to stop."
Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 80-81, 113. Melton approached
and started threatening Severance, asking him, "What are
you going to do about it?" Appellant's App. Vol. II
p. 80-81. Melton pushed Severance back about seven steps and
pinned him against a wall while shoving a broom to
Severance's throat. Severance said, "I don't
know what I'm going to do about it." Appellant's
App. Vol. II p. 81.
Melton then hit Severance with the broom. Severance managed
to get the broom from Melton and swung the brush end of it at
Melton from about six feet away. Melton then knocked the
broom from Severance's hands and ran toward Severance;
Severance did not run toward Melton. Melton got behind
Severance, blocked his vision, and wrapped his right leg
around Severance's left leg and pulled Severance over.
Severance felt a "pop." Appellant's App. Vol.
II p. 83. He collapsed on the ground and blacked out.
Severance suffered a tibial plateau fracture that required
surgery and resulted in a permanent injury. Melton walked
away, left the basement, and left the job site. The
altercation lasted no more than two and one-half minutes.
Severance filed a civil complaint against Melton and the
School, alleging negligence. On April 19, 2016, the School
moved for summary judgment on two grounds: first, that
Severance was contributorily negligent in bringing about his
injuries, thereby barring any recovery, and second, that the
School did not breach its duty to Severance. On May 13, 2016,
Severance opposed the School's motion, requested a
hearing, and designated evidence, including an expert
affidavit of Dr. Jean Peterson. The trial court scheduled the
summary judgment hearing for August 5, 2016.
On August 1, 2016, the School moved to strike Dr.
Peterson's affidavit, arguing that it contained
conclusory opinions unsupported by facts or evidence, lacked
explanation of the methodologies that she used to reach her
conclusions, and included a conclusion of law that the School
was negligent. On August 5, 2016, Severance opposed the
School's motion to strike; also on August 5, 2016, the
trial court struck the affidavit without argument. During the
summary judgment hearing, Severance requested the court to
reconsider its ...